Attorney for robbery defendant seeks suppression of eyewitness ID
The attorney for accused convenience store robber Rodney Hagins, whose trial begins today in New London Superior Court, is seeking to keep from the jury the information that a Best Mart clerk identified Hagins as the perpetrator a few hours after the crime.
Norwich police apprehended Hagins, 41, about three hours after he allegedly held up the Central Avenue convenience store with a knife on July 28, 2012. Hagins was taken into custody outside the High Noon Saloon on West Main Street after somebody tipped off the police of his whereabouts, according to testimony.
Officers conducted a "one-on-one" identification by driving store clerk Rashid Munir to the saloon, shining a spotlight on Hagins as he stood outside a cruiser in handcuffs and asking Munir if this was the person who had robbed him. Munir, who had told police that the robber had distinctive scabs or scars on his face, positively identified him.
Eyewitness identification of criminal suspects has been the subject of a statewide task force and of recent legislation in Connecticut, where standards are still evolving. Defense attorney Linda J. Sullivan argued during a suppression hearing Wednesday that the one-on-one, or "show up" process that led to Rashid Munir's identification of her client, was unnecessarily suggestive to the point where it contaminated Munir's recollection. She said Munir had described a taller person than her client, who is 5 feet 7 inches, and that Hagins was not wearing the grayish-white hooded sweatshirt that Munir had described.
Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed is expected to rule on the admissibility of the identification this morning before the trial begins. Under state law, she must consider whether the procedure was unnecessarily suggestive and if it was, whether the identification is nonetheless reliable.
One-on-one confrontations may be admissible if there is an exigency, or urgent need to identify a person, but the recommended procedure is to show the victim a sequence of photos that includes the suspect and others with similar characteristics. The Eyewitness Identification Task Force recommends a "double blind" process in which the police officer administrating the photo lineup is not aware of the identify of the suspect and tells the witness as much.
Sullivan called Munir to the witness stand after arranging for Hagins to watch the proceeding on closed-circuit television from another room so that Munir would not see her client before he was asked to identify him in front of the jury. Following the robbery, Munir had accurately described scabs and scars on Hagins' face which have since healed.
Munir said police picked him up at the store and told him they had caught somebody fitting his description and wanted to be sure they had the right person. He said he saw the person they indicated and it was the person who had robbed him.
Prosecutor Stephen M. Carney and legal intern Marissa N. Goldberg argued that the one-on-one identification was necessary because Hagins had been detained, but not arrested, when the procedure took place. They said the identification occurred after 9 p.m., making other methods impractical, and that the police's interest in eliminating innocent parties was strong due to the nature of the crime. They said also that the victim's memory was still fresh.
Detective Sgt. James Tetreault said he and Lt. Mark Rankowitz had discussed the one-on-one procedure that night.
"We have the individual right there," he testified. "It was a short time after the incident occurred. It was the best thing to do."
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